A lawyer’s attempt to free his pregnant client from prison before a trial, claiming her fetus was the subject of “unlawful and unlawful detention,” could have serious implications for women’s rights in Florida.
Attorney William M. Norris filed a motion for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Natalie Harrell’s “unborn child” in Florida’s Third Circuit Court of Appeals on February 16, Miami Herald reported for the first time.
The filing states that the fetus “is a person under the Florida constitution and the United States constitution” and is therefore entitled to due process.
“The unborn child has not been criminally charged by the respondents or the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, however the respondents have an unborn child in a detention center known as TGK in Miami-Dade County, Florida,” the statement read.
It also alleges the jail failed to provide Harrell with adequate prenatal nutrition and medical care, saying she had not been seen by an OB-GYN since October, and that she was once left in a van with temperatures exceeding 100F (37C) for long period.
Harrell, 24, was six weeks pregnant when she was arrested on July 26, 2022 and charged in connection with the July 23 death of Gladys Yvette Barcelo during an altercation at an Uber. Harrell has pleaded not guilty and has been held without bail since her arrest.
The state of Florida urged the court to dismiss the motion and disputed the claim that Harrell did not receive adequate medical care, This is reported by the Miami Herald.
Norris did not respond to Guardian requests for comment, but in interviews with other media outlets his rhetoric echoed that of the “fetal personhood” movement, which seeks to give fetuses and embryos constitutional legal protection.
“The unborn child is an individual,” Norris said NBC News. “A person has constitutional rights, and one of them is the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.”
Fetal personhood laws are key The goal of the anti-abortion movement in the US after the US Supreme Court strike Roe v. Wade last summer. They are strongly opposed by organizations that support women’s choice and rights. Pregnancy Justice, the civil rights group formerly known as National Advocates for Pregnant Women, arguing: “Fertilized ova, embryos, and fetuses cannot be added to the community of constitutional persons without subtracting persons capable of pregnancy.”
“When you recognize the personhood of a fetus, it’s Pandora’s box,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor and expert on abortion laws. Ziegler said it’s hard to see how a court could issue an injunction in Harrell’s case without establishing “some general rule” of fetal identity.
“He could confirm that abortion is always illegal and potentially subject women to penalties or make abortion a violation of the Florida constitution,” she said. “It will mean you can’t jail people who are pregnant, regardless of the crime.”
Ziegler said those far-reaching implications — some of which may turn away the “tough on crime” policies of many on the anti-abortion right — were why the anti-abortion movement has largely shied away from habeas corpus petitions in its pursuit for the person of the fetus.
But this case is another evidence of a change in the law landscape post-Re.
“The fetal personhood movement has certainly gained momentum, moving from a fringe idea to codified laws across the country,” a spokesperson for Pregnancy Justice said in a statement, adding: “And while their goal is to end abortion and control people’s bodily autonomy, they little thought has been given to how this affects all aspects of the law other than abortion … It is not known where this will end: HOV lanes, taxes, worker’s comps, child custody/kidnapping, criminal law, and so on.”